Medsafe is looking into a new vape which promises to "support balance and mood" and help users "feel more alert," which experts fear could be dangerous. Inhale Vitamins herbal vapes are marketed via social media with experts saying the company appears to be actively targeting a younger demographic.
One Instagram post, changed after the Herald on Sunday made inquiries, said the Vita Babe inhaler "supports feminine energy, raises wellbeing, and helps with mood management".
Malaghan Institute of Medical Research's director of research Professor Graham Le Gros said they'd seen "herbal" vapes marketed overseas for the past few years and the product could "absolutely" be dangerous.
"There's always the potential for allergies, fibrosis, COPD, all of those things we associate with smoking causes a certain amount of reaction and over a period of time you can really destroy your lung function."
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He said if someone started inhaling things, they could trigger a powerful immune response, which could cause all sorts of medical problems.
University of Otago public health professor Janet Hoek said the product was very clearly targeted at young women - given the type of colours, pictures and models used.
"Sporting gear suggests that it's healthy, that it's associated with wellbeing, the women are all very slim. Some of them are pictured in tight-fitting clothes or a bikini, so this is clearly a product that's associated with having a fit and in-form and very slim body."
Hoek said these claims could make people less likely to look at improving their lifestyle and more likely to opt for a "quick-fix solution".
"For people who have never smoked to pick up a device like this and start using it, without knowing what's in the device, it's clearly got flavours and potentially other chemicals so it's very difficult to know what the health effects are going to be, but the health effects won't be as good as just breathing in air."
Inhale Vitamins said it did not want to be grouped in with vape products because they were associated with nicotine - something its products did not contain. It said they were advertising a healthier alternative instead.
"Why would we market it as a brown package with no branding, when we clearly are not a smoking company and have no products that include nicotine?"
A Ministry of Health spokesperson said Medsafe would be making inquiries into the operation of the website and its connection with the supply of products within New Zealand.
The spokesperson said that in general, medicines must be assessed in relation to their quality, safety and efficacy and approved before they can be generally distributed, sold, supplied or advertised in New Zealand.
Inhale Vitamins said it was entering discussions with Medsafe but would not be applying to register with it until it had conducted formal clinical studies that "back up our positive research and test results".
It also said it was not advertising the vapes as a therapeutic product.
While the company vowed its mission was to help people kick nicotine to the kerb, until the Herald on Sunday sought comment, nowhere on its Instagram did posts mention smoking, or giving up nicotine.
Captions on its Instagram said the devices supported "added Vitamin B12 regulates bumpy emotions, treating the body holistically to reduce fatigue", and "infused Vitamin B6 which is integral to healthy brain function".
However, after the Herald on Sunday questioned the company about it, captions on the posts changed to statements like "Life is all about balance" and "Inhale Blueberry".
It said there were "numerous articles" backing up that you can "feel sensations" from burning lavender, green tea and peppermint.
"The eastern cultures have been smoking teas such as peppermint, lavender, and chamomile for centuries. We innovated this method by utilising an inhaler instead of smoke."
New legislation to regulate vaping was introduced to Parliament earlier this year in an effort to help smokers quit while not encouraging new users.
The Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products Vaping Amendment Bill bans the sale of vaping products to those under the age of 18.
There is a banner on the Inhale Vitamins website stating you have to be 18 years or older to enter and purchase.
The new legislation also prohibits advertising vaping products, restricts the sale of specific flavours to R18 specialty stores, and introduces a safety system that would allow the Ministry of Health to recall products, suspend them and issue warnings.
The Medicines Act 1981 requires that products for use in humans and for which a therapeutic purpose is claimed are medicines.